Statement: Emergency video relay

Published: 16 February 2021
Consultation closes: 30 March 2021
Status: Closed (statement published)

Statement published 22 June 2021

We want to make sure disabled people can easily contact the emergency services.

Video relay services are a way of enabling people who use British Sign Language (BSL) to communicate effectively with people who don’t use BSL. The deaf BSL user makes a video call using a connected device to call an interpreter in a call centre. The interpreter translates what the deaf user is signing into spoken English for the hearing person to hear, and signs what the hearing person is saying to the deaf user.

In December 2019, we published a proposal to require communications providers to make available a free, 24/7 video relay service for deaf BSL users, approved by Ofcom, to enable them to communicate with the emergency services via a dedicated app and website. Our proposal was part of a package of measures we introduced in response to changes in European rules, to protect customers and help make sure they get a fair deal. It reflected the principle that disabled people should have equivalent access to emergency communications.

The proposals in our initial consultation received broad support, but responses raised some specific points which were the subject of further consultation (PDF, 518.3 KB) in February 2021.

This statement sets out our decision to require the provision of an emergency video relay service, implemented through the UK telecoms regulations (the General Conditions). This new requirement will sit alongside, and be in addition to, the existing requirements for emergency text relay and emergency SMS, both of which are being retained.

To ensure that the emergency video relay service meets the needs of deaf BSL users, it must satisfy the Approval Criteria which are published as Annex 1 here. Approval Criterion 2 states that the service provider must monitor and report to Ofcom on its operation, in a form specified by Ofcom. We specified this in the reporting requirements which were published in June 2022.

After reviewing the reports of the first six months of operation, Ofcom has made some minor amendments to the reporting requirements to ensure that they are as effective and transparent as possible. The Approval Criteria remain unchanged.

1. Exclusion of communications abandoned by the caller within 5 seconds

This has been inserted into the reporting requirements for the sake of transparency and to be consistent with the reporting of voice emergency call handling (as set out in our 2013 statement on the performance of emergency call handling agents).

2. Reporting in 15-minute intervals

We are retaining the requirement to measure the percentage of calls answered within 5 seconds in 15-minute intervals but changing the reporting requirement to cover 24-hour periods. As the volume of emergency video relay calls is relatively low, many of the 96 15-minute intervals in a day have zero calls, making monitoring and review of monthly figures difficult. A figure reported on a per 24-hour basis period (as derived from the calls across all 96 15-minute intervals) is therefore more manageable for monitoring purposes. However, if necessary, it will be possible to examine the data in 15-minute intervals in order to help to identify any unexpected call patterns or behaviours.

3. Average call duration

We have inserted an additional requirement to report the average duration of emergency video relay calls.

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